Tom Peterkin: Anas Sarwar role will set tone for reconciliation

Anas Sarwar, centre, lost out in the leadership race. Picture: John Devlin
Anas Sarwar, centre, lost out in the leadership race. Picture: John Devlin
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The last leader is jetting off to the Australian jungle to take part in a rather demeaning reality TV show.

Her erstwhile deputy, who was accused of scheming and plotting against her, has just been suspended following claims of harassment by an ex-girlfriend.

Never mind the jungle, welcome to the Scottish Labour Party, November 2017. As it emerges from a bitterly divisive leadership contest, Richard Leonard inherits a party that appears more dysfunctional than ever before.

Following his election as the seventh Scottish leader in little more than a decade the left-winger’s in-tray is full to overflowing.

Notwithstanding Rowley’s difficulties or the hugely unhelpful distraction caused by Dugdale’s decision to appear on I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, Leonard faces multiple challenges. His most pressing is how to unite a party which is riven by division.

When it comes to this task he is helped by the reasonably comprehensive nature of his victory. In the run-up to yesterday’s result some had forecast that Leonard would win courtesy of trade union members who had the right to vote in the election.

The theory was that Anas Sarwar would prove more popular amongst fully signed up Labour members. Had that happened there would have been a fault line between the unions and the bona fide members. Leonard, however, not only comfortably won the union vote, he also won the members’ vote, albeit by a much narrower margin. Therefore he has a mandate that cannot easily be challenged.

In doing so he has maintained the momentum that left-wingers have built north of the border under Jeremy Corbyn’s UK leadership.

His victory sets the seal on gains made by the left on the Scottish party’s ruling executive. Leonard hesitates to describe himself as a Corbynista seeing himself as more of an old-fashioned trade union leader in the style of Campbell Christie or Bill Speirs. Nevertheless, the defeat of Sarwar will increase Corbyn’s influence in Scotland. Leonard will aim to build a party on socialist principles – an aspiration that will not go down well with the substantial body of opinion which believes that a lurch to the left will not help Labour’s electoral prospects.

Moderates will also be very concerned that the work done by Jim Murphy and Dugdale to give the Scottish party more autonomy could be undone.

Even though Leonard’s mandate is secure, it should not be forgotten that a majority of MSPs favoured a Sarwar leadership.

This means he has some vital decisions to make in terms of the team he builds in the Scottish Parliament.

All eyes will be on what jobs he gives to key supporters like Neil Findlay and Monica Lennon.

There will be even more interest in what happens to centrists like Sarwar and Jackie Baillie, one of the party’s more formidable operators.

Leonard signalled that there would be an important role for Sarwar in a magnanimous post-result press conference. Giving him a plum job would only be the start of a very big unification job.

Leonard will have to display mountains of guts, enthusiasm and leadership or else he may find himself in an unwanted game of “I’m a Scottish Labour leader...Get Me Out of Here”.